In recent days, news headlines have been dominated by stories of hostages being returned to the State of Israel in exchange for the release of Palestinian terrorists. While we are happy that these people are being returned to us, we are also greatly saddened by the condition in which they are being returned to us. There are children who were separated from their parents, who remain in Hamas captivity. Stories have emerged of women and children being held in cages and being tortured with electric shocks, while being only given pita, rice, and tuna to live on. Evidence has emerged that the hostages that were released were drugged up with the same drugs used to rape women in order to conceal the extent of Hamas’s brutality towards the hostages from the international community.
Of course, it won’t be surprising if more stories of sexual violence emerge from the hostages, after it is already well-known that Hamas raped and mutilated women in their sexual organs before massacring them on October 7. Meni Binyamin, the head of the International Crime Investigations Unit of the Israeli police, told The New York Times that they “are investigating sexual crimes against both women and men perpetrated by Hamas terrorists. There were violent rape incidents, the most extreme sexual abuses we have seen, of both women and men. I am talking about dozens.” He said that a team of investigators had gathered “tens of thousands” of testimonies from survivors, witnesses, and first responders.” Therefore, it won’t be surprising if it Hamas also raped women it held captive. For the entire Israeli nation, the fact that innocent civilians are still being held hostage in Gaza and the condition in which the hostages are being returned to us, and the fact that terrorists are being released in exchange for their freedom is a great trauma.
These days following the October 7 massacre, as numerous hostages are returning to the State of Israel in a very traumatized state, are de ja vu for me to the 1970s, when I was a young man serving in the Israel Defense Forces. ack then, three terrorists crossed the border to kill children in a Kiryat Shmona school. As a result, they brought us to Kiryat Shmona. The children in the school were so lucky that they had a holiday, so the three terrorists left the school and went to a building near the school, where they tried to kill people. We came to fight with them. They shot at us all the time. They blew themselves up. In the end, 18 Israeli civilians were massacred of which half of them were children and 16 others were injured.
I will never forget how the people in Kiryat Shmona were so angry. This was the first time that the terrorists crossed the border. Usually, they shot from far away. I remember seeing a young 19-year-old soldier on a stretcher. There were body parts on it. He was broken to pieces. There was a strong odor. I will never forget that bad smell. After that, I stayed near the building for a few nights with my team. I did not eat nor drink. It was a tragedy for me what happened there. After that, we feared another terror attack emanating from Lebanon. Later, the terrorists did the same thing in Maalot. In Maalot, over the course of two days, 115 Israelis were taken hostage, of which 25 were killed alongside six other civilians. It was such violence that led to the eruption of the First Lebanon War and since then, my health has never been the same.
However, the Ma’a lot Hostage Crisis differed from this one, as back then we did not give into the terrorists’ demands and didn’t release criminals in exchange for the freedom of our hostages. Instead, we waged an operation, that did end up killing a number of the hostages, but at least no terrorists were released. However, today, we free criminals who seek our death, just because they are minors or women. Today, we do not have the valor and the courage that we had back then. We are too broken to fight like that today.
After one witnesses pictures of abused women being paraded through the streets of Gaza and views images of mutilated and raped dead women, and beheaded babies across Southern Israel, it is hard to have the courage not to give in and release terrorists so that the remaining hostages will not have the same fate. However, when you release one terrorist, it only encourages the next October 7 to occur again and again.
We are not the only nation to face this dilemma. A couple of years ago, Azerbaijan agreed to a prisoner exchange agreement in order to free Azerbaijanis who were held in Armenian prisons. Like the hostages in Hamas custody, these people were not given proper nourishment and were exposed to torture, and barely had any fresh air. As one of the hostages told the Turkish media, “They didn’t give me food for a year in prison. I was 107 kilograms (235 pounds) when I was taken hostage. I lost 52 kg [114 Ibs] in one year. They also gave me electric shocks.”
Following the First Karabakh War, Human Rights Watch wrote a report which claimed that they investigated one of the places where Azerbaijani hostages were being held by the Armenians and found that the two women there were raped by the Armenians several times per day in front of the male hostages. Amnesty International concurred that Azerbaijani prisoners have been mistreated and abused by the Armenian forces: “Durdana Agayeva said she and other women had been beaten when held in a cell containing some 30 women in a police station in the Armenian-populated town of Askeran. Gulaya Orudzheva reported that while she was held she saw two young Azeri men shot in cold blood, other prisoners beaten, and one woman raped.” When a nation has citizens who are suffering from such a situation, they will do anything to ensure their freedom, even if it means acting against their national interests. So like Israel in recent days, Azerbaijan also has agreed to release Armenian prisoners in order to get its citizens back.
For similar reasons, the United States agreed to the Algier Accords in order to release the 52 American hostages that were held by the Iranians for 444 days after the Iranians seized the US Embassy in Tehran following the Iranian Revolution. Many of these hostages were also mistreated and abused to the point that some even wanted to commit suicide. For this reason, the Americans were desperate to get their people back. Even though this agreement went against America’s national interests, the United States agreed to it due to the torture and other degrading conditions that the American hostages were exposed to in Tehran. For this reason, even though it is never good to give into terror and accede to the demands of groups like Hamas, sometimes, we do it for we lack another way to bring a humanitarian crisis to an end. And for that reason, I support doing everything that it takes to bring the remaining hostages in Gaza home.
Ayoob Kara served as Israel’s communications minister under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.